The snow is starting to stick to the ground. The temperatures in the morning have been hovering in the mid-teens making it perfect for a Winter Wandering in Maine. Winter has definitely arrived here in Maine even if it isn’t December 21st yet. Unlike a lot of people around my area that seem to dread the cold and can’t drive as soon as the first snow flake falls, I live for winter. The mountains get calmer. The trail heads less crowded. And I can often go for hours on the trail without seeing a soul. It’s just the way I like my time in the mountains (most of the time).
For my first expedition in to the great quiet, cold yonder of the 2010-2011 winter season, I chose to start small and tackle the local modest peak of Pleasant Mountain (2,006’). It’s a common place that the locals can get away to without having to take the full day since the views on the top are really great and there are countless trails heading to the peak with a variety of different lengths and difficulties. In fact, my very first “winter” hike with snowshoes was up Pleasant Mountain a couple years ago. So it holds a special place in my outdoor loving heart.
Before I even loaded up my car to head to the mountain, I gathered all of my gear together in a happy pile on the kitchen table. One of my newest routines before heading out now that the cold has hit it to get my Wonder Warmers ready to go. Wonder Warmers are reusable heat packs that are available from Reuseit.com in a variety of sizes. Reuseit.com sent me a set of the small packs to test out. The smallest sizes can hold their heat for about 30 minutes while the largest can last about an hour. I typically don’t use chemical heat packs because I hate the waste they generate. But Wonder Warmers can be recharged over 100 times. According to Reuseit.com, “If pad is in solid state, it needs to be recharged. If pad is in liquid state, it is charged. Recharge within two weeks of use and store in liquid ready-to-use state when not in use. Wrap in solid cloth to prevent direct contact with pot when boiling to recharge. Place in boiling water and boil until all crystals melt—about 10 minutes. Doubles as a cooling pack if placed in fridge, too (do not place in freezer).”So, after cooking up a couple of hardboiled eggs, I now wrap up my Wonder Warmers and give them their dip in boiling water to recharge them for my trip in to the cold. They don’t take very long at all to recharge and it is even better when I get to reuse the boiling water that I had used for something else (like my eggs).
Once all of my gear is pulled together, I load up the CamelBak® Fourteener pack that CamelBak® sent me to review. The Fourteener has recently become my new favorite pack for day hikes thanks, in part, to its 1587 cubic inch cargo space and ingenious design features. It’s designed to handle 10-25 pounds of gear and has an awesome load-bearing belt to help distribute the weight. Combined with the Dynamic Suspension™ harness and the N.V.I.S.™ backpanel to help provide ventilation, CamelBak® definitely got it right with the Fourteener. But that’s not even my favorite part of this hydration pack. It might seem trivial to most people, but they even color coded the zipper pulls so you can easily tell which zipper will get you access to your water bladder and what will get you to your gear.
With the two zippers right next to each other, that was been such an awesome design feature to add. To add one last awesome point to the Fourteener, CamelBak has done a total overhaul on their bladder design and now has the CamelBak® Got Your Bak Guarantee™, which backs their bladders and packs with a lifetime guarantee. The bladders themselves now feature a baffle design which helps to prevent them from bulging out too much and causing your pack to do odd things. They also have a quick release tube which is design to make it easy to change it from the neoprene covered winter tubing to a longer tube and then back to the traditional length all without having to hassle with warming up the tubing to slip it on (or off) of the connection.
Even if you never change the tube, it at least makes it tons easier to clean it, which is definitely a plus. If you have the previous generation of CamelBak® bladders, you might struggle with opening the port to fill it, especially at the end of a long, hard day of activity. CamelBak® changed all that as well with a super easy to open port that only takes a quarter of a turn to open (or close) it. Combine all those improvements with the lifetime guarantee and it’s definitely an awesome pack. I loaded the Fourteener up, chucked it in my vehicle and took off to find the trailhead for the Fire Warden’s Trail, which I had never hiked before.
Once we found the trailhead and got geared up, it was time to head to the top. This time I was accompanied by my husband and our 3 year old terrier mix named Digby. Although it was my first hike out in the snow this year, this one was Digby’s last hike until next summer since he’s too small to handle the cold of the winter. I was all nice and toasty warm thanks to the Camp Jacket from Canada Goose and the Comet Gloves from Dakine, both of which were supplied by their respective companies for the purpose of review. Starting off with the Camp Jacket, it’s the perfect jacket for both life in the city and your active endeavors outdoors. The sleeves feature stretchy material that ensures that the cold breeze doesn’t draft up. The bottom also has an adjustable hem that can be easily tightened through toggles that are in the front pockets, which, when pulled tight, “seals out cold and wind”. “With the lightweight warmth of 750 fill power premium Canadian Hutterite down, and the packing convenience of easy compression, this jacket features a wind-proof quilted ripstop nylon shell and a down-filled draw cord collar to keep you warm.” It has the perfect fit that keeps you warm without adding unnecessary bulk to your frame, which makes it the perfect everyday jacket as well as for on the trail. Photo of interior of jacket The ability to pack it down REALLY small in to it’s own pocket makes it the ideal jacket to bring with you for those peaks that are warm at the base and freezing up top. It takes up hardly any room at all! Just be careful when you order it because it does seem to run small. The jacket I have is a large and it barely fits me while I normally take a large is most other brands. If you are a well endowed woman, you will definitely need a bigger size as it was not designed for those figures.
for activities when you don’t need a full gauntlet. I already have a pair of their Men’s Legacy snowboarding gloves, but the nice big gauntlet is a little too much for me, especially early in the season when the snow isn’t too deep. The Comet, on the other hand, has a minimal cuff with a velcro closure to permit a tight fit. It also, like the Legacy, features a Gore-tex membrane, so you know your hands are going to stay dry while still letting them breath. The insulation in the Comet is comprised of 60 grams of high loft synthetic, which ensure the perfect amount of warmth without causing your palms to get overly sweaty during your outdoor activities. They are lined with 230 gram fleece, which is super soft and not rough at all.
The trail itself was very wide and shows signs of its previous use as a over roading trail for vehicles. We were greeted at the beginning by a sign that warned us of a hard to follow trail due to logging that had been done on the mountain and that we should chose another trail if it concerned us. Being experienced with the outdoors and willing to do some exploring, we headed up the mountain where we would hit the peak in 2.5 miles miles. The trail overall was fairly mud free and didn’t boast much in the way of the expected ice until we hit the trail junction 0.2 miles from the summit. The section that were icy, I’ll admit, did result in a lot of laughter on my part as Digby would underestimate his jumping abilities and would often find himself sliding down to me with a look of bewilderment as if to say “I didn’t mean for that to happen, Mom.” There was not much in the way of snow on the trail itself for the majority of the hike until we were nearing the top. Being a snow lover, Digby loved sticking his head in to the fluffy white stuff, snorting around a little while, and then popping his head out, covered in snow, and looking a bit like an old man. I swear he was smiling the whole time. He loves the trail and combining it with winter makes an awesome time even better in his little dog mind.
As for my chosen footwear for the day, I chose to go with Saucony’s Women’s Progrid Razor combined with Bridgedale’s Women’s X-Hale Trail Diva socks, both of which were supplied by their companies for review. The Progrid Razor is designed for use a trail runner for neutral runners, but it’s light weight and built in short gaiter made me really curious how it would handle light hiking, such as the 2.5 trek up Pleasant Mountain. As I proceeded up the trail, I acted just like I normally would on the trail and did not watch my step super carefully or avoid any mud. Saucony photo They are eVent™ lined for waterproof protection and it definitely held up to its name. My feet stayed dry the entire time and I couldn’t tell at all that I had stepped in to countless wet areas. The Exclusive Vibram® Trek Outsole provides exceptional traction and grip without adding a lot of weight, which was useful for the rockier areas of the trail and to help make me quicker on my feet. Although they are not specifically intended for use in cold weather, my feet did managed to stay warm enough thanks to the SSL EVA midsole. When combined with the X-Hale Trail Diva socks, my feet were very happy the entire day.
The X-Hale is designed for trails from low-level to mountain top and features a “slim fit, light, breathable, T2 dual cushioned and close-fitting”. Like the Razor, it is not designed for cooler weather, but it fit the bill for my short trek quite well. During the time that I’ve worn the X-Hale Trail Diva socks I have not had any blisters or hot spots at all even when my feet are sweating profusely during the warmer months.
When we got to the top of Pleasant Mountain, the views were much better than we had expected. The cloud cover was just high enough that we were able to see the mountain range on the other side of the valley from the rock ledge that is the common resting spot. While we ate a bit of food, I sat Digby down on my lap, wrapped him up in his trail blanket, and then put the Wonder Warmers on to his chest and rubbed his paws on them to melt the snow on this pads. They worked really well at taking the chill off and definitely helped to melt off some of the worst ice balls, yet they weren’t so warm that they hurt. If you want them to last longer, Wonder Warmers advises you to knead them more as they are being activated and to also insulate them a bit. Both of these techniques have definitely increased their heat output and also lengthened their active time. Also, because they are made of a PVC-based plastic, they are really easy to wipe clean if you happen to get them dirty, like I did by putting Digby’s muddy paws on it.
Once we were all fed and Digby had melted off, we decided it was time to head down the trail. As the temperatures were starting to drop further, the ice was starting to solidify more and needed to use traction devices to make sure we didn’t slip. Digby happily bound down the trail, wagging his tail, and grinning the whole way while hopping over the ice and water (without missing). The sun never did really come out for the entire trip and, as such, the air had a notable crispness to it. I pulled out the Merino Wool Buff that the company had sent me and put it on like a balaclava to protect my ears, cheeks , and neck. Buff photo It’s my go-to piece of gear that always makes its way in to my bag because of its versatile use as a neck warmer, hat, head band, balaclava, and so much more. If something is just starting to chill off, it gives me just enough warmth to keep things safe without making me sweat a lot. Better yet, unlike most other wool products I’ve tried, it also doesn’t itch at all. Since it scrunches up into a tiny ball, it stays in my pack all year regardless of the temperatures. It’s better to be prepared than to be in trouble.
We managed to get to the base of the trail before darkness fell and everyone was happy to have another success day on the trail under our belt. Digby was wagging his tail endlessly as I lifted him in to his bed in my car to make the drive back home. I know he’s going to get excited when he sees me packing up my bag and he’s going to be mad when I leave him behind. But I know he’ll get back out there next summer once the snow has melted. He may be small in size at only 24 pounds, but he’s got a big trail heart inside him. I’m going to miss having him by me as I trek up more trails this winter. My husband and I got in to the car. Cranked the heat on to warm Digby up and melt off the snow that seemed to cover all of us. And then we headed for home. It was a good day to be in the mountains.